Lewis Hamilton has found in Max Verstappen a genuine and serious title opponent after years and years of Mercedes hegemony. The Spanish Grand Prix will probably reflect this year trend in Formula 1 with seven-time world champion being pushed around by the young (and yet experienced) Dutchman.
The Mercedes driver started on pole position at Catalunya but was outpaced down the main straight line by Verstappen who swooped past him on the inside to claim an early lead. Following the first batch of pit-stops, positions at the front remained unchanged but Mercedes opted for an audacious strategy by calling the Brit into the pitlane for a second stop.
Lewis Hamilton, 22 seconds behind Max Verstappen, successfully pulled off a recovery drive to pass the Red Bull driver with only seven laps to go. A struggling Verstappen was outsmarted by Hamilton and Mercedes, the Dutchman settling for second place and claiming one extra point for setting the fastest time in Spain.
“We were still here late most evenings discussing strategy and we had all the bases covered in that respect. Of course, it just meant I had to do the job on track and coming back from 21 seconds was not easy but it was the right call in the end,” Hamilton said after the race.
Only four races into the 2021 season, one pattern is taking shape: the quest to the title won’t be as straightforward as it used to be for Lewis Hamilton with Verstappen fighting doggedly to claim his first World Championship at the end of the year. The 23-year-old tries to glean any point possible as the fight will be tight and each point will count in the end.
Max Verstappen said after the Spanish Grand Prix he “tried everything” to ward off Hamilton in the dying stage of the race. “Managed it as good as I could but it’s not enough when they are pushing you and they have clearly more pace,” he added.
Lewis Hamilton tops driver standings with 94 points ahead of Verstappen, 80 points, and Valtteri Bottas, 47 points.
Only the Mercedes driver and the Red Bull driver have finished the first four races on the podium, but Hamilton has racked up three wins only ending the race behind his rival at Imola. The Red Bull driver could have won the season opener at Sakhir but he made a mistake, handing on a silver platter the victory to Hamilton.
The 36-year-old English driver revealed after the Spanish Grand Prix that he relishes on-track scraps with the Red Bull driver. He said: “Max has more experience now and he is clearly incredibly hungry to win more races and to win this championship so it is game on. That’s what we are here to do, to race, to be fighting for wins, and the battles that we have had in these first few races have been amazing. I am excited to enjoy more.”
Previously, the title fight was limited to an internal battle between both Mercedes drivers with Hamilton clinching the World Championship almost all the time, except in 2016 where Nico Rosberg beat his teammate in a dramatically epic year.
Bottas was named as Rosberg successor and had the big responsibility to be as tenacious but he didn’t live up to the expectations. Indeed, the Finn was recruited to help Hamilton in his quest and not to pursue his own ambition, with Mercedes looking for a driver that could be easily tamed and wouldn’t cause frictions within the team.
Formula 1 heads to Monaco next weekend for the fifth round of the season where Hamilton has already won three times (2008, 2016 and 2019). The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the pandemic.